The Whole Nation Looks at 3 North Carolina Connected Authors

Three recent books with North Carolina connections have gained national recognition. You should certainly know about them.

Tim Gautreaux is widely admired in our state’s literary community. For instance, popular Hillsborough author Lee Smith, writing about Gautreaux’s latest book, “The Missing,” said, “I have just finished, biting my nails and staying up almost all night to do so—-surely the best rip-roaring old fashioned truly American page-turner ever written! No way to say how much I admire that book. Got your attention?”

“The Missing,” like Smith’s “The Last Girls,” is set on a riverboat that travels along the Mississippi River.

But it is not the same kind of book.

Smith’s characters are contemporary middle-aged women on a luxury tourist ship remembering their college river rafting venture down the river.

Gautreaux’s tale, set in post World War I times, is dark and violent, featuring a kidnapped child and outlaw families living on swampy, nearly deserted lands near the river.

Gautreaux grew up in Louisiana’s Cajun country and has spent most of his life writing about his home state and teaching there.

So what is his North Carolina connection? His wife grew up in Raeford, and since Hurricane Katrina they have divided their time between Louisiana and a home in Ashe County. Gautreaux will be the guest on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch on Sunday at noon (February 3) and Thursday (February 7) at 5 p.m.

Three North Carolina-connected books made the New York Times “100 Notable Books-2012” list. The only non-fiction sports-related book on the list is “American Triumvirate Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, and the Modern Age of Golf.” Its author, James Dodson, is the editor of “O. Henry” and PineStraw” magazines and is an award-winning writer-in-residence at The Pilot in Southern Pines.

Snead, Nelson, and Hogan dominated professional golf in the years surrounding World War II. Ironically, all were born in 1912, and their stories, as told by Dodson, are intertwined and poignant.

Dodson says these three are responsible for the popular professional golf game that we know today. (February 10, 14)

One of North Carolina’s most successful and admired business leaders grew up in unbelievably oppressive circumstances in China during the Cultural Revolution. Starved, beaten, denied basic education, she survived and has prevailed. She tells this story of her challenging pathway to success in this country in her new book, “Bend, Not Break: A Life in Two Worlds.”

The book’s title comes from advice from Ping Fu’s “Shanghai Papa,” who told her, “Bamboo is flexible, bending with the wind but never breaking, capable of adapting to any circumstance. It suggests resilience, meaning that we have the ability to bounce back even from the most difficult times. . . . Your ability to thrive depends, in the end, on your attitude to your life circumstances. Take everything in stride with grace, putting forth energy when it is needed, yet always staying calm inwardly.”

Ping Fu is the founder and CEO of Morrisville-based Geomagic. It develops 3D software that makes possible the exact duplication of 3D objects using small machines called 3D printers. In 2005, Inc. Magazine named her Entrepreneur of the Year. A few weeks ago, Geomagic was acquired by one of its customers.

As “Bend, Not Break” moves on to the national bestseller lists, it will inspire readers and draw scrutiny from some skeptics who may find Ping Fu’s journey too amazing to be real. (February 17, 21)

Finally, are you wondering what other North Carolina connected books made the New York Times Notable Books list? They are Ben Fountain’s “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” set in Texas Stadium in Dallas, with a halftime performance by Beyonce, just in time for Super Bowl reading, and Wiley Cash’s “A Land More Kind than Home,” set in Madison County.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage.

A grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council provides crucial support for North Carolina Bookwatch. 

Bookwatch Classics (programs from earlier years) airs Wednesdays at 11:30 a.m. on UNC-MX, a digital cable system channel (Time Warner #172 or #4.4). This week’s (February 6) guest is David Cecelski author of “The Waterman’s Song.”

“Aerotropolis.” Is it for us?

“Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.”

Yogi Berra’s seemingly contradictory wisdom could be a subtitle for a new book about airports and the surrounding landscapes that grow up around them.

“Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next” by John D. Kasarda and Greg Lindsay, catalogs the world’s major international airports, explaining which ones work well, which ones do not, and why. Kasarda is director of the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at UNC-Chapel Hill and an early proponent of North Carolina’s Global TransPark.

The authors examine the rising cost and looming shortage of petroleum and the unquestioned detrimental environmental consequences of carbon emissions and pollution. Then they argue persuasively that, not withstanding these factors, the world’s mega airports are here to stay.

Not only here to stay, but also they assert, these large airports and the urban areas that surround them are destined to be the world’s most important centers of population, employment, commerce, industry, enterprise, and creativity for the foreseeable future.
Older airports like Los Angeles, Chicago, and London’s Heathrow demonstrate how such operations can be amazing economic generators and how they are being choked by their very success.

For example, say the authors, “LAX [Los Angeles International] is a case study for how airports are incubators for trade and the cities that spring up to seize it. And then there are the side effects.”

Not only Apple but also “Intel, Hewlett Packard, Sun, and Cisco—long ago began outsourcing work … across the Pacific,” they continue. “Now they wait for airborne freighters to land in Los Angeles with the first samples of their latest holiday smash in the hold.”
Although LAX is booming, “The sprawl encircling it has calcified, and traffic on its interstate arteries…is the most sclerotic in the region.”

Still, the authors say, “LAX will get busier. Its many missteps will be mitigated but never rectified, and the crush on its crumbling infrastructure will worsen until—from a competitive perspective—it finally implodes.”

Newer airports, like those at Dallas, Denver, and Washington’s Dulles avoided some of these problems. More efficient systems inside the airport, better-planned connections to nearby businesses and surface transportation, and room to expand give them the ability to steal economic development potential from their older competitors.

Closer by, and maybe easier to understand, are the economic booms that the airports at Memphis and Louisville created. With Federal Express and UPS making these airports their principal transfer hubs, these cities became ideal locations for distribution centers of “overnight” sellers like Amazon and the warehouses of “just-in-time” manufacturers. As a result, these two cities are “in bloom” again, maybe explaining why the record crowd at the Kentucky Derby last weekend looked so prosperous.

The efficient airport operations and the attraction of related businesses at Memphis and Louisville give clues about the concept of the strange word in the book’s title: “Aerotropolis.” But there is more to it than just an airport and its city. According to Kasarda and Lindsay, an aerotropolis must be “a superconductor, a piece of infrastructure promising zero resistance to anyone setting up shop there.”

This “frictionlessness” is “the product of a whole host of attributes, many of which are invisible: tariff-free zones, faster customs clearance, fewer and faster permits, and a right-to-work workforce that knows what it is doing.”

These things and a surrounding efficient infrastructure “combine to cut costs and red tape for corporations, often at the expense of their employees and the taxpayers, in exchange (theoretically) for greater gains for all down the road.”

Where can these things be brought together? In places like China or Dubai, where decisions can be made overnight by fiat. In the U.S. and other democracies, the pathway to the ideal aerotropolis may be too steep.

And if the aerotropolis is to be the key to future competitiveness and prosperity, we may find that our beloved democracy is an expensive treasure.

“They are trying to eat Big Bird”

The hundreds of William Friday’s friends and fans who gathered to hear him speak last week might not have guessed that the institutions he worked so hard to build were threatened by the just-released legislative budget proposals.

But he gave them a big clue when he opened his remarks with, “They are trying to eat Big Bird.”
The luncheon gathering, hosted by UNC-TV, celebrated the 40th anniversary of Friday’s television program, “North Carolina People,” and the approximately 2,000 people who have been his guests, one of them every week on UNC-TV since 1971.
Friday is 90 years old. So people are wondering how much longer the program will continue. But, as Friday has scaled back some activities, his enjoyment of and commitment to the program has increased. Folks at UNC-TV say that they are already planning for a 45th anniversary party five years from now.
But it was not always that way. Friday told his audience that it all started when his friend and colleague Jay Jenkins persuaded him, over his objections, to host a program with four living governors. That program was a success. Jenkins and UNC-TV director John Young pushed him to do a one-on-one interview. He did, and did it again and again every week, ever since.
His comments last week were vintage “Bill Friday,” self deprecating and so respectful of the people he was addressing.
“This occasion is about you and is not about me.
“You know,” he said, “former UNC President Dick Spangler was visiting in Dallas [in Gaston County where Friday grew up] and stopped in a filling station where a group of men were gathered. ‘Do you all know Bill Friday?’ Spangler asked. ‘Yep,’ they answered. ‘Didn’t he play baseball?’ Spangler continued.
“‘Yep, and if he had stuck with baseball he might have amounted to something.’”
Friday continued to put himself down. “You know we get fan mail every now and then. Early on, one of them came on a postcard that just said, ‘Mister, ain’t you got but one necktie?’”
Friday said that he had learned several lessons from his television experience. Lesson number one came with his first guest, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Robert House.
“We knew he would be good because he could talk your head off. I prepared about 30 questions. I was on number 29 and we were only nine minutes into the program.”
House was giving short “yes or no” answers to every question.
“I got into a cold sweat. Then I remembered that Chancellor House had written a book. One of the topics was about American cheese. So I asked him what was it like? And for the next 20 minutes he went on without interruption.
“So lesson number one is never ask a question that can be answered yes or no.”
Friday’s lesson number two is that “every North Carolinian has a story to tell. So the lesson is to be quiet and listen.”
Lesson number three, Friday said, is that conversations with his guests have “real historic significance.” Their spontaneous comments and expressions will give special insights for those who study the history of our times. But it is not only for history. Friday said he wanted today’s viewers to be enlightened, as when he interviewed the doctors who treated his heart condition.
Then, for those who might not have yet guessed his concern about his cherished institutions, he said, “Yesterday’s budget proposals as they relate to the university and UNC-TV would, if fully implemented, be a tragedy.”
In closing, he thanked the crowd for letting him visit in their homes every week and, with a wink, said, “By the way, I’ve got a new necktie.”

Now, those are my thoughts. What are yours? Comment below.